TUCSON, Ariz. – A career-night for junior outside hitter Chelsea Albers set the table for a thrilling finish to the Arizona Invitational as No. 20 Kansas mounted a comeback victory inside the McKale Center Saturday night, 25-27, 25-15, 25-23, 25-20.
When head coach Ray Bechard put together the 2013 schedule, he made a point to put his team to the test with a tough road slate. Kansas (2-1) at Arizona (2-1) fit the mold, facing the PAC-12 Wildcats in their house on Saturday night. Fittingly, the road challenge he set up marked Bechard’s 250th at Kansas. The winningest coach in program history, Bechard is the only Jayhawk coach with 250 wins, which ranks fourth all-time among Big 12 Conference coaches.
“The best part of it was that it was against a good team,” Bechard said. “I’m happy for the kids. We had really good balance. I was really proud of our pin players, Albers, (Sara) McClinton and (Catherine) Carmichael when they’re rolling, it opens things up for (Caroline) Jarmoc. Erin (McNorton) did a good job spreading the ball around. It was a good win against a quality opponent.”
Albers was outstanding on both sides of the ball, chalking up career-highs in both kills (16) and digs (18) for her second double-double of the year. Sara McClinton shined alongside her in the spotlight, cranking out a team-high 18 kills. Together, the two combined for an astounding 34 kills and only five errors. Their efforts earned the duo spots on the All-Tournament Team.
Joining Albers and McClinton on the leaderboard were redshirt seniors Caroline Jarmoc and Catherine Carmichael with 15 and 14 kills, respectively. That marked the first time three Jayhawks chalked up 15-plus kills in nearly a year (vs. Creighton, 9/19/12). Senior setter Erin McNorton fueled the well-balanced offense, recording a double-double with 58 assists and 14 digs.
Defensively, Kansas was equally solid as four different Jayhawks tallied double-digit digs. Senior libero Brianne Riley led the back row with 22 digs. Albers followed her with 18, while McNorton and freshman defensive specialist Cassie Wait posted 11.
Junior outside hitter and Hawaii transfer, Jane Croson, led Arizona on the offensive side, setting the tone with 10 kills and no errors in the opening frame. The Jayhawk defense keyed in on her, and although she added 10 more kills to her total – she also committed eight errors by night’s end.
Albers sparked KU’s early offense as the Jayhawks posted a quick 4-0 run to take a 9-6 lead early in the first set. With her at the serve, Albers connected on a service ace to force an Arizona timeout.
Service errors caught up to both teams, but did little to bring down the energy in the gym as the team sprinted to the midway point with Arizona holding a slight lead, 17-15. With momentum trying to shift toward the home team, Bechard signaled for a timeout. It helped temporarily, but the Wildcats caught steam and pulled ahead, 22-18.
Albers stepped in once again. Digging a hard shot from Croson, she kept the ball alive to give McClinton the chance to put it away. Together, the junior duo went to work, combining for four kills to tie the set, 24-24. Carmichael put a kill away to bring the Jayhawks to set point, 25-24. Three-straight kills from Madi Kingdon and Croson stopped the rally and UA took set one, 27-25.
Ignoring the loss in the opening frame, the Jayhawks ran with the momentum in set two, swinging for 16 total kills and committing two errors. Two more kills for Albers and back-to-back aces from Riley saw the Jayhawks sprint out to an 8-4 lead, prompting a Wildcat timeout. Working with their first comfortable lead of the match, Jarmoc came to life with a pair of kills, while McClinton and Carmichael followed suit. Watching themselves fall behind 15-8, the Wildcats used their last timeout of the set.
KU’s outsides weren’t interested in a break. Two-straight kills from Carmichael and a good read to the middle of the floor from Jarmoc saw Kansas surge forward, 20-12. Two kills from Carmichael, who had five in the set, put an exclamation mark on the commanding 25-15 win to tie the match at a set apiece going into the break.
Picking up the pace, Kansas roared out to a 5-0 lead to start set number three, which included the third ace of the night from Riley. As predicted, the home team battled right back and after redshirt freshman middle blocker Janae Hall’s second kill of the night, the Wildcats pulled the set within one, 10-9.
With that, the race was on. Kansas would pull away, building a 16-12 lead, and Arizona immediately narrowed the gap, 18-17. When a block against a Carmichael attack tied the set, Bechard used the opportunity for a timeout. Arizona took advantage, stringing together a 4-0 run to take its first lead of the set, 20-18. Unfazed, the Jayhawks got three kills out of their All-American Jarmoc. Her last one of the set sealed the 25-23 win and put KU in front, two sets to one.
Two points were the most that separated the two teams for nearly all of the fourth set, but the junior duo could not be stopped. Together, Albers and McClinton rattled off six-straight kills to take control of the match in the final moments, surging ahead 21-17 and forcing one last timeout from the Arizona bench. A block by Albers and Hall all but sealed the deal before back-to-back Carmichael kills officially ended the Jayhawks’ comeback win, 25-20.
- Saturday night’s victory marked head coach Ray Bechard’s 250th victory at Kansas. The 16-year veteran is 250-210 with the Jayhawks and 966-270 in his 28th overall season.
- Senior libero Brianne Riley raised her career dig total to 1,553 on Saturday – just 15 digs shy of cracking the Big 12’s all-time career top-10 list (1,568, Jennifer Saleaumua, Nebraska, 2002-05)
- Riley also tied her career-high with three aces, marking the third time in her career that she’s tallied three aces in a match.
- Kansas, Central Arkansas and Arizona tied for the tournament title according to tournament officials.
The Jayhawks stay on the road on Tuesday, Sept. 3, when they travel to UMKC for a midweek match. First serve is set for 7 p.m.